You are at a dinner party working the room, mingling with familiar faces and meeting new ones. Dressed to impress, you introduce yourself with an inviting smile and a firm handshake. Your new acquaintance expresses what a pleasure it is to meet you, and then uses the all too familiar fallback conversation starter:
“So, John…what do you do?”
How many times have you had to answer that question? Probably more than you care to answer. This age old form of small talk illustrates how identity is often tied to profession by an awkward blurry line that merges who we are with what we do for a living. As if in our minds we believe that in order to understand someone else, we must first know what work they do.
This is not a new phenomenon. In years past, people were often known by their job titles. In South Africa, for instance, many family names stemmed from the husband’s occupation. The now common first and last name “Piet Poliesman” literally translates to, “Peter the Police Officer.” Talk about personal branding!
Sure, the activities that we are involved in (including work) take up a large portion of our time, energy, and attention and therefore does determine the focus of much of our lives. But does work define our lives and our existence? I think not.
The world of work is different today than it was for our friend Peter. Those living in the 20th century learned that if they were loyal to an organization they would be rewarded with stable employment and likely also financial security – the ingredients that offered them a firm foundation for a life and future. Unfortunately, in today’s world of work, this is no longer the case, so it is foolish to try to define ourselves in the same way. Today:
Organizations are fluid
The 21st century has brought with it rapid advances in information technology which vastly expanded world markets. Globalization has necessitated that organizations operate and make decisions not only quicker, but also smarter. Consequently, barriers between functional units are often removed, thereby essentially flattening hierarchical structures of the 20th century to create organizations that are in essence boundaryless. Read the rest of this entry